By Ann L. Coker
I took off work to hear my husband preach in chapel. Arriving late, I sat on the back row against the wall. Bill had already started his message. I sensed something different; his tone sounded strident. Returning to work, I kept thinking about his presentation.
That evening I asked Bill if something bothered him, and he confessed that his confidence was shaken. My heart was sick. If he could do anything, it was preach.
Bill phoned our pastor, who sent him to the library for a recommended book. He met me in the kitchen and said, “I know what’s the matter with me.” The book summarized the symptoms of endogenous depression. Except for thoughts of suicide, the list described him. I questioned how this had developed and where it would take us.
Our pastor advised a getaway to prevent a nervous breakdown. I wanted to go also, so it meant both our bosses had to release us with the promise to secure our positions. That began more than three months of cognitive therapy for Bill. After each session we would talk about the discussions he had with his therapist. He described the sensation of loss as resembling divorce, for his lack of confidence affected his job, his relationships, and our lifestyle. I could also identify.
My part of the story was not as vivid as Bill’s and justly so. It was his depression, panic attacks, and lifelong dreams that died. But my part in this drama involved more than being an eyewitness and confidant. His loss touched deeply within my being, wondering what was next and how our lives would change.
Bill sorted out the past, present, and future while I faced my own fears as they collided with my faith. I worried as Bill fought off anxiety attacks, such as our going for a walk and abruptly returning home. While reading he moved one leg up and down. I asked why. He said, “I know I’m alive as long as I’m moving.” What made sense to him puzzled me, for I did not understand. I felt alone, moved outside of his world.
For me the hardest part of Bill’s depression revolved around his change in affectionate patterns. I missed his coming up behind me, putting his arms around me, and whispering something dear. Or how he used to start singing for no apparent reason. I missed the man I knew so well. But I had hope that we would again embrace our togetherness.
I returned home and resumed my work while Bill stayed away two more weeks. During that time my thoughts focused around what depression meant long-term—to us as a couple and as part of a Christian community. Some coworkers viewed depression as a character flaw. That hurt, so I disconnected with most friends. Only God knew my thoughts.
Healing took time. “Get well quick” doesn’t work with depression. Using cognitive therapy meant bringing thoughts out in the open and honestly working through the process of healing. We received encouragement from new friends in a new town with new positions. That helped rebuild Bill’s confidence. My fears reflected insecurity, so I learned to accept change as God is more than adequate for any situation. Some losses are still evident. For example, depression affected Bill’s beautiful handwriting. He prefers that I write the notes on our greeting cards now. While it’s no bother, I miss his handwritten notes.
We would not have wished this trial, yet we are both more compassionate—with each other and with others. The God of all comfort “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Corinthians 1:4). Experiences don’t have to match; it is God’s comfort we share, not our own. Our trial has opened doors for us to help others.
So when asked how it was for me, I say, “Aside from my faith in God, I attribute my survival to a firm belief in Bill’s inner strength.” That satisfies anyone’s curiosity.
Ann L. Coker, a writer committed to connecting with Christ, lives with her husband in Terre Haute, Indiana.